That is where the chupacabra lives

BY YAZMIN MERCADO

My abuela used to tell me not to go into the basement at her house. That’s where the chupacabra lives. Leading downstairs was an open space in the floor, surrounded by a sort of gate indoors, the stairs being the only things visible on the way down. I swear it would drop at least ten degrees if you dangled your feet down the gate, but neither my siblings nor I would dare to do that for more than a couple seconds. Still, it just didn’t make sense for the sweltering Puerto Rican heat to just drop like that. If any of us dropped a bouncy ball or some other toy down there, it was a goner. Some kids had a curmudgeonly old neighbor to fear at playtime, my siblings and I had a goat-sucking monster.

Now that I’m a full grown “adult” I know that logically this was all just a ploy to keep my siblings and I away from the dangerous carpentry equipment our abuelo kept down there, but it was a pretty convincing lie to a seven-year-old. Still, I find it hard not to believe the speculation.

Descriptions of the creature vary across the world, but the first reports of him come from Puerto Rico, where my family’s from, not long after I was born. They say he looks like a mangy dog, hairless, if not mostly so, with black, lifeless eyes. He only comes at night, which makes it easier for him to blend in to the surroundings, stalking around, unseen. He has spikes, like a lizard, down his back, and he stands on his hind legs, like a raptor. He drains the blood from livestock to survive, hence the name, goat-sucker.

Being from New England, visiting the island really got to us, sleeping in pools of our own sweat, sometimes not even making it to sleep because of the unfamiliar sounds of nature. We were told the whistling outside was of the local frog population, the coquí, but honestly you try to convince three impressionable kids that those quick little chirps, unlike anything we’d hear at home, didn’t belong the monster our grandparents were apparently hoarding in their cellar, calling out for help to any creature who would listen.

Logically I know he wasn’t really there, lurking below me as I slept, waiting to escape, but to me that doesn’t mean he isn’t real. I’m not usually one for superstition, but sometimes there’s a part of your childhood, a sort of wavy link to your culture that you just can’t shake.